One of the toughest parts about researching breast cancer online is trying to sort fact from fiction. The internet is full of half-truths, conflicting reports and flat-out myths about the disease. Provision CARES Proton Therapy is committed to our Culture of CARE, putting the patient experience first. So, for Breast Cancer Awareness Month, we’re debunking five of our most commonly heard myths. All of these breast cancer facts have been verified for quality and accuracy by our cancer care experts to help you make an informed decision about your healthcare.
MYTH: I found a lump in my breast, so I have cancer.
TRUTH: Lumps don’t always indicate cancer. Likewise, the absence of lumps doesn’t always mean you don’t have breast cancer.
While the most common symptom of breast cancer is a lump, most breast lumps are caused by conditions other than cancer. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the two most common causes are fibrocystic breast condition and cysts. Fibrocystic condition causes noncancerous changes in the breast that can make them lumpy, while cysts are small fluid-filled sacs that develop in the breast.
The American Cancer Society (ACS) says lumps are more likely to be cancerous if they are painless, hard and have irregular edges. However, some breast cancers can be painful, soft or round. That’s why you should always check with your doctor if you notice any changes in your breasts.
There are many other symptoms of breast cancer, even if a lump is not detected. These can include swelling of the breast, skin dimpling, breast or nipple pain, nipples turning inward, red or flaking breast skin, nipples discharging fluids other than breast milk, and swollen lymph nodes under your arm or around your collar bone. The ACS recommends contacting your doctor if you experience any of these symptoms.
MYTH: Breast cancer only happens to older women.
TRUTH: Breast cancer can develop in younger women, too, as well as men.
While your risk does increase with age, the NCI reports women in their 30s have a 1 in 208 chance of developing breast cancer. By the time a woman reaches her 40s, that risk has increased to 1 in 65. Overall, it’s estimated that 1 out of every 8 women in the United States will develop breast cancer at some point in her life.7
Breast cancer in men accounts for less than 1% of cases in the United States. However, the ACS says male breast cancer is on the rise.1 Unfortunately, a higher percentage of men are diagnosed with advanced-stage breast cancer, likely a result of less awareness and fewer early-detection screenings.
MYTH: My family has no history of breast cancer, so I am not at risk.
TRUTH: While a family history of breast cancer does put you at greater risk, most women who develop breast cancer do not have a family history of the disease.1
According to the CDC, a family history of breast cancer may put you at higher risk for the disease, but is not indicative of whether you’ll actually develop cancer.2 In fact, the ACS says most women with one or more affected first-degree relatives (parents, siblings, children) will still never be diagnosed.
The CDC provides a table with examples of average, moderate and strong family health histories, along with suggestions for preventative measures each group can take. Regardless of your family history, the CDC recommends you get mammograms and other breast exams as recommended by your doctor, maintain a healthy weight and exercise regularly. As family history of breast cancer increases, genetic counseling becomes an option to test for hereditary breast cancer. Be sure to talk to your doctor about what screenings are best for you and when you should get them.
MYTH: A double mastectomy will eliminate my risk of breast cancer.
TRUTH: If the cancer is detected early enough, other treatment options can eliminate the cancer without removing the entire breast.
A mastectomy involves removing the entire breast and is typically performed when breast-conserving surgery (lumpectomy) is not an option. However, women with early-stage cancers can typically choose between the two types of surgeries. The ACS notes that while it’s normal for your gut reaction to be to “take out all the cancer as quickly as possible” with a mastectomy, the fact is that, most of the time, a lumpectomy combined with radiation therapy results in the same outcome.
Many patients at Provision CARES Proton Therapy choose to combine a lumpectomy with proton radiation therapy. Proton therapy for breast cancer treatment is non-invasive and painless, causing less cosmetic damage than conventional x-ray radiation. It is extremely precise and therefore more effective at targeting cancerous cells without causing damage to surrounding breast tissue. Because proton radiation has little to no impact on a patient’s energy level, quality of life during treatment is improved.
For women who do opt for a mastectomy, it’s important to remember that post-surgery treatment is still necessary. Even after removing the breast, there’s a small chance the cancer could recur on residual breast tissue or the chest wall. You should continue to perform self-breast exams and see your doctor on a regular basis.
MYTH: Antiperspirants and wire bras can cause breast cancer.
TRUTH: There has been no conclusive evidence linking antiperspirants or bras to breast cancer.
Rumors have swirled across the internet claiming underarm antiperspirants cause breast cancer. The National Cancer Institute (NCI) says the basis of these claims is the aluminum-based active ingredient in antiperspirants. Some scientists have suggested that absorbing these aluminum compounds into your skin could increase your risk factor for breast cancer.4 Still, no clear link has ever been established between antiperspirants and breast cancer. In fact, the NCI even cites a study from 2002 that concluded there is no increase in risk for breast cancer among women who reported using an underarm antiperspirant.3
Another rumor making its rounds across cyberspace is that wearing a wire bra can increase your risk of breast cancer. This myth was debunked by a 2014 study published by the American Association for Cancer Research. According to the authors, it had been suggested in the media that bras impede lymph circulation and drainage, interfering with the process of waste and toxin removal.6 However, the study concluded that wearing a bra had no effect on your risk of breast cancer.
- Breast Cancer Facts & Figures 2017-2018. American Cancer Society. https://www.cancer.org/content/dam/cancer-org/research/cancer-facts-and-statistics/breast-cancer-facts-and-figures/breast-cancer-facts-and-figures-2017-2018.pdf
- Breast and Ovarian Cancer and Family History Risk Categories. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/genomics/disease/breast_ovarian_cancer/risk_categories.htm
- National Cancer Institute. Antiperspirants/Deodorants and Breast Cancer. https://www.cancer.org/cancer/cancer-causes/antiperspirants-and-breast-cancer-risk.html
- Darbre PD. Aluminium, antiperspirants and breast cancer.Journal of Inorganic Biochemistry 2005; 99(9):1912–1919. [PubMed Abstract]
- Mirick DK, Davis S, Thomas DB. Antiperspirant use and the risk of breast cancer.Journal of the National Cancer Institute 2002; 94(20):1578–1580. [PubMed Abstract]
- RayCC. Q and A – Bras and Cancer [Internet]. NY times; 2010 [cited 2013 Dec. 16]. Available from: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/02/16/science/16qna.html?ref=science.
- Howlader N, Noone AM, Krapcho M, et al. (eds). SEER Cancer Statistics Review, 1975-2016, National Cancer Institute. Bethesda, MD,https://seer.cancer.gov/csr/1975_2016/, based on November 2018 SEER data submission, posted to the SEER web site, April 2019.